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Bringin' back the vibe

The 1960s revival in Singapore indie music

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Published: 18 Nov 2021


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Oto is a Baybeats Budding Writer who was mentored by Eddino Abdul Hadi, music correspondent for The Straits Times.

Bowl cuts, bell-bottom jeans, psychedelia and the summer of love are a few trademarks of the numerous musical and youth subcultures that defined the 1960s, an era in which the foundations for modern pop culture were laid. An innate sense of nostalgia is shared amongst those who take the time to experience what they can of it, whether through rummaging through Excelsior Shopping Centre’s old record stores or going on long winding internet deep dives. The feelings of nostalgia for this decade are felt no more fervently than amongst the denizens of the current ’60s revival and psychedelic-rock movement currently emerging in Singapore’s indie music scene. Jangly guitar riffs, catchy singalong choruses, retro fashion and positive lyricism are some of the ways in which many of these bands pay tribute to Singapore’s ’60s pioneers.

While many associate the 1960s with the blues-influenced pop-rock boom in America and Europe, our own contemporary music scene’s legacy came to fruition during this same period of time. The craze of Beatlemania and the British Invasion carried itself all the way over to our tiny island and gave rise to the likes of The Quests, The Thunderbirds and The Crescendos. The unique musical style of ’60s Singaporean rock involved a blend of rhythm sections known as Kugiran groups performing the internationally prevalent style of ’60s pop rock while accompanied by a vocalist performing in regional, asli styles of singing that would normally be found in Malayan folk music. The cultural blend of psychedelic, blues-influenced guitar riffs and folk music sparked the beginning of what became known as pop yeh yeh, a reference to the call and response lines heard in She Loves You by The Beatles. Singapore’s unique pop yeh yeh revolution emerged concurrently with Thailand’s Luk Thung Funk movement and the Cambodian psychedelic rock scene, both of which also married contemporary rock with traditional folk. Pop yeh yeh groups were at the centre of Singapore’s then-emerging youth culture, with performances commonly attended at televised “Sound-Alike” battle of the bands competitions and “Tea Dance” events held at venues such as The Golden Venus at Orchard and the New World Cabaret at Jalan Besar.

While pop yeh yeh’s influence and significance was never truly forgotten, with notable pioneering groups like the Rhythm Boys and Siglap 5 having had reunion performances at venues like Esplanade in recent years, the movement inevitably fizzled out by the end of the 1960s. This was due to the closure of numerous venues around town and the ’70s crackdown in Singapore on the drug culture that ’60s music had become associated with globally.

Recently however, new groups of up-and-coming musicians have worked to bring the sounds of ’60s pioneers back to new audiences. A sense of fondness for all things vintage and a longing for the colourful aesthetics and carefree positivity of that decade has sparked the emergence of this new wave of ’60s revivalists in Singapore. Bands like the Shirley Temples, The Pinholes and Spacedays infuse their own interpretations of old-school psychedelia with the new-school sounds of modern indie rock, alongside producers such as Haqim of the Kribo Records, who employ the techniques and equipment of ’60s recording engineers to fuse psychedelic rock and funk with styles such as neo-soul and even kompang (traditional Malay percussion ensembles). Singapore’s ’60s revival movement isn’t one that merely replicates the ’60s, but it presents listeners with fresh and inspired takes on the classics that are integrated with a wide range of musical influences.

While Singapore’s contemporary musical movement in the ’60s was based on commercial accessibility, the modern revival movement is one based on experimentation and embracing alternativity. To get some additional perspectives from the artists themselves, we spoke with: Spacedays, bringing back the atmospheric sounds of space-rock era Pink Floyd; Shirly Temple, whose love for the Beatles largely influences their unique style of indie-rock for hopeless romantics; and The Purnama’s, a fresh-faced new group who combine numerous genres to form their signature sound.

Shirly Temple: Homage to The Beatles, P. Ramlee

Credits: Shirly Temple Facebook

The lasting impacts of early Singaporean Malay music and cinema are ones that Shirly Temple cite as their influences. “I think for most of us, it began with old films and artists from that time, some of it includes P. Ramlee, The Quests, Shirly Nair and The Silver Strings. Recommendations from our grandparents influenced this feeling mainly in the form of music, style and films and a lot of these artists helped shape the psychedelic music we now have in the 21st century.

The topic of authenticity is a contentious one for many artists. Preserving older forms of contemporary music is important, but the expectation of artists to “progress” and “innovate” is quite apparent amongst listeners and much of the contemporary music scene. Ask the lads in Shirly Temple how this has impacted their songwriting, and they reply: Change is always constant. So it’s imperative to broaden your knowledge in music if you want to open up doors to new ideas. But it’s also good to have a balance and variety of things. Of course we have our own take on the ’60s. From whatever we’ve experienced individually and as a band, the product of that is what you hear in our music.”

Shirly Temple are 4 Beatlemaniacs who creatively blend psychedelic rock and modern indie to form their own unique take on the sounds of the ‘60s. The young upstarts, consisting of: Malik, Shao, Afi and Elza, released their first LP, Roll Over and Play Dead, back in 2017, but have been releasing music consistently since then with their latest single and music video, Scissor Sunday, having been released around May this year.

Sifting through Shirly Temple’s discography, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the positive romanticism and youthful energy reminiscent of Haight-Ashbury’s summer of ’67. Their beautiful emotionally vulnerable ballads are a joyous trip into the worlds of romance, heartbreak and the whimsies of being young. Scissor Sunday’s concept of a young couple on a surrealist, metaphor-filled date bears similarities to the eccentric themes of older ’60s psychedelic rock videos like Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys, a testament to the group’s sense of nostalgia and adoration for the music of the past. As they’d tell me, “One thing we can definitely say we love from the ’60s is the culture. The music has definitely had an impact on our lives individually but collectively, you can say that we’ve always imagined what it was like to have lived through that era”.

The Purnama’s: Rockin’ out with pop yeh yeh

Credits: The Purnama’s Facebook

The Purnama’s are another important ’60s revival group currently active in Lion City’s indie scene. Directly influenced by the pop yeh yeh movement, the band also incorporates elements of ska and surf-rock riffage into their take on ’60s Singaporean pop-rock. Their two single releases, Mas Ayu and Dia, can both be found on Spotify.

The Purnama’s are quite nonchalant about their adoration for pop yeh yeh. In fact, vocalist and guitarist Hyqal’s initial exposure to ’60s Singaporean music was actually what sparked his interest in forming a band. My love for ’60s music started off at a Malay wedding when I saw people at the venue singing along to a pop yeh yeh song, I think it was by P. Ramlee. In 2017, I discovered this Malaysian pop band called Kugiran Masdo, whose style was based around a modern take on bands playing ’60s rock. Seeing them inspired me to form my very own pop yeh yeh band, who became The Purnama’s.Keeping the spirit of Singapore’s ’60s pioneers alive is something that The Purnama’s do quite well and they boast a rather extensive amount of knowledge surrounding the genre, with some of the influences cited by the band including The Quests, Shirley Nair, The Silver Strings and The Crescendos. These bands have a hold a very sentimental place in the hearts of the Purnama’s, as they tell me: That type of sound is very authentic and vintage! Pop yeh yeh doesn’t just die off like that. Their legacy still remains and will always be remembered. We’ve brought it back to reminisce the audience’s moments in that time of their lives.

Characteristic of the Singaporean ’60s rock groups of yore, The Purnama’s music is written entirely in Malay. At a time where many local Indie bands opt to write their music in English, The Purnama’s eloquent Malay lyricism is a refreshing change amidst a nationwide push to promote the use of mother tongue languages in local arts and music. However, according to the guys in the band, the linguistic nature of their lyrical content is naught more than a medium for their own self expression, with their lead guitarist Baban telling me, Whatever the situation is in our lives, we write to let our hearts out to reach out for others delivering those lyrical messages for them no matter what languages we wrote in.”

Spacedays: Timeless introspection meets vintage psychedelia

Credit: Spacedays Facebook

Spacedays are a local quintet of psych-rockers whose music has been aptly described as the “soundtrack to a vintage outer space movie”. The group has been active since 2009 and released their debut full-length LP titled Is it In the Circle in 2013. The name “Spacedays” comes from a personal motto of the band, going along the lines of Some days, we just need some space to reflect”, a testament to the deeply personal and introspective nature of much of their music. Their latest single, Lucy’s Space Garden, a must listen for fans of space rock groups such as Pink Floyd and Hawkwind, dropped in late September this year and is accompanied by a wacky psychedelic music video that can be found on their YouTube Channel.

Before the group’s era of psychedelic synth-driven grooves was heard on releases such Moondust, Spacedays actually started off as a two-piece garage rock trio inspired by the likes of The Black Keys and The White Stripes. Despite many listeners associating the band with late ’60s space rock, Spacedays prefer not to confine themselves to any time periods or subgenres. As founding member Mamat would put it, “Our sound is very rojak, we can write whatever we want and we don’t have any constraints with what we put out.” Before Spacedays, Mamat had also been a prominent member of The Pinholes, of whom his brother Famie was the founder, but had left the band in order to start a project that would allow him to be more stylistically expressive. The group then took on additional members to experiment with synthesizers and generally expand on their songwriting capabilities.

However, despite the timelessness of the band, the group has a lot of reverence for the ’60s and Singaporean and regional musicians from that era. Guitarist and vocalist Akid (who has an up-and-coming solo music project, tells me, “There are quite a few acts we’re influenced by. For me, I really like P. Ramlee. Many of us grew up with his films so he probably has an influence on a lot of my vocal melodies.”

Despite not entirely defining themselves by the period, Spacedays has a collective reverration for many ’60s musicians, acknowledging them for shaping contemporary music as we know it today. As bassist Hanis puts it, “It’s pretty much the first starting point. The ’60s were when bands started to amplify themselves so a lot of their music became more experimental. They built from the technology that they had back then, and experimented and kept growing and going more far out”.

Singapore’s indie scene is far from monolithic. It’s host to a wide variety of musical and artistic movements drawn from influences that stretch across the globe. The ’60s and psychedelic revival movement, while among many various subgenres, is one that is not merely emblematic of vintage clothing and its associated aesthetics, but it also presents listeners with a flurry of high energy optimism that’s much needed for the times we’re currently in. If you’re looking for the best that local music has to offer, and are particularly in the mood for bands that give off good, carefree vibes, then you should check out the various bands that make up Singapore’s ’60s psychedelic rock revival movement!

Contributed by:

Oto Sequeira

Oto Sequeira is a Baybeats Budding Writer and singer-songwriter with a passion for all things underground and counter-cultural. He currently writes for bigduckmusic.com and is active in bands like the indie pop duo Queen Khan and thrash metal quintet Vexxon, as well as being a solo musician. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook @otosequeiramusic.      


Baybeats Budding Writers

Baybeats Budding Writers is an annual initiative first launched in 2014. Through a series of workshops and under the guidance of Eddino Abdul Hadi, music correspondent for The Straits Times, our Budding Writers conduct interviews with Budding Bands and write articles related to the Singapore music scene and Baybeats.
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